Apr 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

New biography sheds light on Latino civil rights defender

Cover of the Alonso Perales book.
Courtesy of Arte Público Press

A recently published biography delves into the life of a little-known but key Latino civil rights leader who co-founded one of the most influential Hispanic civil rights organizations and became a U.S. diplomat.

The big picture: "Pioneer of Mexican American Civil Rights: Alonso S. Perales" comes as Texas limits discussion of racism. Few biographies of Latino historical figures exist.

Details: Once one of the most well-known Latino advocates in the U.S., today Perales is largely forgotten, writes biographer Cynthia Orozco, a professor of history and humanities at Eastern New Mexico University.

  • Orozco argues Perales was one of the most influential Mexican American civil rights advocates of the 20th century, even though he was sometimes seen as controversial.

Flashback: Born in Alice, Texas, in 1898, Perales was orphaned as a child and worked in the fields and on the railroad before serving the U.S. Army during World War I.

  • After returning from the war, he and other Mexican Americans founded the League of United Latin American Citizens in 1929 in response to the discrimination they faced in Texas.
  • He received a law degree from George Washington University Law School, becoming one of the first Mexican American lawyers in the nation.
  • Perales spoke out against discrimination, worked to register Latinos to vote, and served as a U.S. diplomat.

The intrigue: Though Perales was a Democrat in his early years, he switched to the Republican Party in the 1950s.

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